Audible Local Ledger

By Jessie Royce Hill

(Listen to an audio version of this story).

For many of us, the idea of getting up and reading the newspaper or browsing the Internet over a cup of coffee is routine. But there is a community of people on the Cape and south coast who don't have that luxury because they cannot see. One of them is Sean Butler, a 33-year-old man who moved to Falmouth last year, striking out on his own for the first time in his life.

Sean's apartment is tucked behind a shopping plaza in downtown Falmouth. Walking into the tidy ground floor studio, there's no indication that a blind person lives here. There's a television, a computer, a digital keyboard and a guitar. The Braille timer in the kitchen might be the only giveaway.

Sean Butler: Yarrow, come on. Over here. Good girl. Yarrow, sit down. Good girl. Good puppy.

Even Sean's guide dog Yarrow is just an ordinary black lab when she doesn't have her official uniform on. Sean likes his life this way. Sean lost his sight when he was seventeen. He was a preemie and suffered a disease called retinopathy of pre-maturity, or ROP.

Sean Butler:Before that I had some usable vision. It was out of one eye. Like Pinhole vision, that's how much I had. I could see colors, I could see a little bit to get around, I could see large print if it was up to my face.

For the first time in his life, Sean has moved out of his parents house and into his own apartment. Sean and Yarrow are a familiar sight in Falmouth these days where they take their daily walks.

Sean Butler:It's much better than living at home. Living with your folks is living with your folks. Obviously you're not a kid and you can make your own decisions but you can't in a way because you're still under your folks roof. Here I like it much better.

Sean's new routine includes practicing his guitar every day and singing songs like Neil Young's Sugar Mountain.

A number of things help Sean navigate the world, like a special bus that takes him to the grocery store, and a special radio service. Audible Local Ledger is a listening service he subscribes to. It offers closed circuit radio including articles from the Cape Cod Times and the Falmouth Enterprise as well as weather and entertainment. Sean also helps out in their office.

Sean Butler:I feel like I'm more connected because I have the service and the fact that I am volunteering. It helps because I am giving something back to the community, too. It gives me a chance to go out, too. Not that I don't anyways. Its a sighted world, that's the way I see it and why be sheltered? I would much rather make people aware of who I am in that being blind is a very small portion of who I am.

Sean and 400 other visually impaired people in the region get much of their printed material by tuning into Audible Ledger. Ten years ago, a blind woman named Josephine Fletcher started the listening service as a way of bolstering the blind community here. It's part of a New England wide program.

Sighted volunteers like Anna Blake take turns clipping and reading newspaper articles in the Ledger's cozy Mashpee office. They read everything from the obits to the funnies condensing for time.

Josephine Fletcher, or Jo as she's known, hopes to reach out to the nearly 8,000 visually impaired people in this region.

Josephine Fletcher:It doesn't matter if its a visual problem or a neurological problem such as Parkinsons where they can't hold a book or turn a page. It could even be someone who has dyslexia.

Jo is a small, elegant woman of a certain age, dressed on this day in floor length green velvet with a swath of bright red hair and blue eyes. She views the Ledger as more than a listening service. To her it's an advocacy group.

Josephine Fletcher:There needs to be much more education about blind people. We are not miracle workers. We don't all hear better than anyone else. I'm losing my hearing now cuz I'm older. We don't all sing and play the piano and rock. We're just people and the only thing we have in common is the fact that we cannot see. That's all.

In fact, Jo does sing as a church soloist, and like Sean Butler, she studied music and plays the piano. There's a portable keyboard in her office next to her Braille machine. Both she and Sean are also equipped with special sound equipment to help them navigate their computers. Sean is using his to search the classifieds, just about the only section of the papers Audible Ledger doesn't broadcast. Sean is looking for a job in human services. That will give him evenings free to teach guitar lessons.

Broadcast July 28, 2005

Jessie Royce Hill reports for the Cape and Islands NPR Stations.

Audible Local Ledger
Homeport Complex
Suite 5
346 Gifford Street, Falmouth, MA 02540
(508) 457-4772 /tollfree (877) 255-2260

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